Complete your Christmas menu with Sussex wine
No matter what you’ve got lined up for your Christmas menu this festive season, a bottle of expertly-paired wine will complete the meal and add that extra special finishing touch to your Christmas. With a wealth of award-winning wineries and vineyards dotted across Sussex, there’s certainly no shortage of quality, world-class wines to choose from. We’ve raided our Sussex Modern Wine Cases to find a selection of the finest wines – white, red and sparkling – to complement your festive feast, and recommended pairings from the vineyards’ experts.
Experience has also taught me that guests presented with a stellar glass of wine are much more willing to overlook a cooking faux pas or two – those Yorkshire puds that failed to rise for example, or the sprouts boiled half to death. As the cook, I definitely feel happier and more forgiving of my culinary shortcomings with a glass in hand.
Taking the time to source wine outside of your local supermarket is an excellent, and delicious way of directly supporting Sussex’s independent wineries and vineyards. Like many others, the industry of innovative viticulture in Sussex has had a challenging year, so let’s help to keep it thriving.
Let’s start at the top of the menu then shall we?
Canapés and Starters
Let’s be honest, canapés aren’t your usual mid-week dinner fare. These tasty bite-sized treats are reserved for special occasions such as Christmas, and their job is to quite literally get the party started. So start as you mean to go on, and pair your canapés with a wine that means business. The Wiston Brut NV has what the pros refer to as that zesty zip that gets you going! It’s a bright, versatile sparkling wine that’s sure to pair with any Christmas canapés and it’s light zestiness means this can be enjoyed early on in the day as an apéritif. One for the present opening perhaps! Similarly, Rathfinny Estate’s Classic Cuvée is the perfect complement for those late morning nibbles and pairs particularly well with fish flavours. Smoked salmon blinis anyone?
A delicious alternative to sparkling comes in the form of Stopham Estate’s Pinot Blanc. Dry with notes of pear and primrose, this white has a bright acidity, albeit balanced with a touch of sweetness, that perfectly cuts through the richness of smoked fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout. If crusty sourdough smeared with fish pâté, or piled high with smoked salmon is a starter on your menu, this is the wine for you.
Fish is not for everyone though, and smoked salmon my be the canapé king, but it is most definitely not the be all and end all. If you’re opening up your menu with something a little bit meatier, a charcuterie selection perhaps, then you can’t go wrong with a bottle of Ridgeview’s sparkling Cavendish NV. This style has great depth of flavour and carries the gentle signature spice and earthy notes of Pinot grapes – perfect for cured meats.
The main course is arguably what Christmas dinner is all about, and everyone has their opinion about which meat, vegetable or side is the real star of the show. For me it’s all about the roast potatoes. If the spuds are on point, I’m willing to forgive a multitude of sins. But what pulls it all together is the wine. Depending on what you’re serving, we’ve got pairing recommendations for sparkling and still, red and white wine.
If darker meats and game are on your menu this year and you’re planning on serving a traditional roast duck, or rabbit, then red wine is it’s perfect partner. Bolney Estate’s Pinot Noir is lightly elegant and an excellent example of a cool climate Pinot Noir – it has a smooth and creamy finish, but it’s the notes of red cherry, leather, spice and chocolate that make it the perfect pairing for game. Perhaps roast goose, à la Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, will be the statement centrepiece of your Christmas dinner? A less popular choice these days, though no less delicious, it’s fatty richness is the perfect match for a crisp white wine such as Stopham’s Pinot Gris. Full of juicy fruit intensity, it holds up to the strong flavour of the goose whilst it’s almost floral character refreshes the palette.
Turkey will also fare well with a red wine served alongside. Albourne Estate’s Pinot Noir is a delicate red that won’t overpower the bird and will pair up perfectly. With aromas of sweet cherry, blueberry and subtle violet, this wine is best left to breathe at room temperature for an hour or so before being served. All is not lost if you forget, but you won’t regret it if you remember! Personally, with white meat I like a white wine, and if that’s the case for you as well, then Rathfinny’s Cradle Valley white, a blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, could be just what you’re looking for. Lest we forget it’s Christmas, let’s get some bubbles back on the menu! For roast turkey, or roast chicken, let’s return to Ridgeview’s Cavendish NV. Made up of a third each of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, this bottle of bubbly will definitely set off your Christmas meal.
Another excellent apéritif is Bolney’s Blanc de Blancs, which also happens to pair extremely well with pork. Blanc de Blancs tend to reign supreme in the world of sparkling wines, and for good reason. A glass of this, made in a very traditional manner, is the perfect accompaniment to crunchy, salty crackling. Now that’s a winning combination! For those of you making vegetables the star of your Christmas dinner, you’re not forgotten. In fact, you have the widest choice of compatible wines, and almost all of the suggested wines above will pair well with a vegetarian Christmas dinner. Just remember, delicate flavours such as whole roasted butternut squash, cauliflower or nut roast pair well with sparkling and white wines such as Rathfinny’s Cradle Valley, whereas stronger earthier flavours such as mushrooms and roasted beetroot are enhanced with a red wine such as Bolney Estate’s Pinot Noir. Spoiled for choice.
Dessert and Cheese Course
The last hurdle, the light at the end of the tunnel, the final nail in the food coma coffin – it’s the last course. The last course is as important as the rest, it’s just as crucial to go out with a bang as much as it it to open with one. The question of cheese or dessert is of course the great divider – the savoury, umami types in one corner, the sweet toothed in the opposite. Some are devoted followers of exclusively one or the other, whereas some insist on indulging in both. Whichever camp your Christmas menu falls into, we’ve got the perfect tipple.
Surviving the final push, albeit savoury or sweet, could mean circling back to that zippy Wiston Brut NV from earlier in the day. This wine’s versatility is it’s superpower and it partners as well with cheese, as it does a booze-soaked Christmas pudding. This sparkler could be the necessary swerve to avoid the impending food coma.
So let us take the cheese route for a moment. As with viticulture, Sussex is also rich with cheesemaking tradition, and local delicacies are not in short supply. If you manage to get your hands on a Sussex Brie, or any Brie for that matter, pairing it with Bolney Estate’s Pinot Noir is a sure fire winner. Pairing a lighter wine with a mild flavoured cheese, or vice versa, ensures these partners bring out the best in one another. If a punchier cheese is on the cards, maybe a Brighton Blue, or a Stilton, then a cold, crisp, citrussy still white wine such as Stopham’s Pinot Gris would go down a treat. Equally, a strong salty cheese such as blue would cut through the sweet richness of a fortified wine such as Albourne Estate’s delicious Vermouth. Sweet and salty is the ultimate combination.
Which leaves us to go down the dessert route to pudding central. If you’re sticking to traditional festive desserts this year (and who can blame you?), the dark, caramelised fruitiness of a classic Christmas pudding, or the dark chocolatey goodness of a decadent yule log will be perfectly complemented with a glass of red. Either of the aforementioned Pinot Noir’s will do the job nicely. Alternatively, you can opt to cut through those heavy flavours with the sharp, fruity acidity in a glass of sparkling. Rathfinny Estate’s Classic Cuvée will be up to the task, as will Bolney’s Blanc de Blancs.
If a lighter dessert is on your menu, a Tarte au Citron for example, or a generous slice of lightly spiced Pannetone, then Oxney’s sparkling Organic Classic can’t be beaten. The crisp acidity and aromas of fruit are balanced with notes of biscuit, brioche and pastry. This isn’t an aggressive wine, it’s soft and gentle with a generous mouthfeel. That’s how you finish a meal on a high note!
We guarantee you’ll be staggering over to the sofa sated, happy, and just a little bit tipsy.
Hopefully you’ll have found the finishing touch to top off your Christmas dinner. It’s been a difficult year for many, and with so many restrictions still in place for the forseeable, sometimes it’s the small things – an extra treat at Christmas, or an unusual indulgence – that bring us a much needed, much deserved slither of happiness.
Most of the wines recommended are featured in our Sussex Modern Wine Cases. Each cases contains six bottles, and there are still, sparkling and mixed cases available to order from Charleston’s online shop.
You can order the recommended wines online, or visit the vineyards directly. Cellar doors will be open in the run up to Christmas and no doubt a wide variety of festive goodies, treats, and nibbles will be available as well. We recommend checking the wineries’ websites ahead of a planned visit to check their Christmas opening hours.
Find out more about our wine partners here.